An Interview with Dr. Jackie Whittaker, Research Scientist, Arthritis Research Canada
Dr. Jackie Whittaker is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of British Columbia, Research Scientist at Arthritis Research Canada, Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research Scholar, and recipient of the Arthritis Society’s STARS Career Development Award. Her research takes a lifespan approach to preventing osteoarthritis, with a particular emphasis on the knee. This includes understanding the consequences of sports-related youth knee injuries, identifying modifiable factors that mediate knee injury and subsequent onset of osteoarthritis, and co-developing interventions with patient and clinician partners to halt or delay the onset of post-traumatic knee osteoarthritis.
1. What is your organization’s interest in the Osteoarthritis Action Alliance? Arthritis Research Canada’s vision intersects with that of the Osteoarthritis Action Alliance. Our scientific team, in partnership with our Arthritis Patient Advisory Board, is dedicated to discovering innovations for early diagnosis, prevention, treatment and improving quality of life for individuals with arthritis at any age. The economic burden (including healthcare costs and lost productivity) of all forms of arthritis in Canada is in excess of $30 billion per year. As the most common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis is a serious condition and is one of the top causes of long-term disability. Between 2018 and 2019, approximately 62,000 hip, and 75,000 knee replacements were performed in Canada, representing a 20% plus increase over the previous five years. Through arthritis research and in collaboration with organizations like the Osteoarthritis Action Alliance, we can change millions of lives.
2. What is a headline you’d like to see about osteoarthritis in five years? “Osteoarthritis cases drop in Canada: A coordinated national strategy to focus on prevention pays off.”
3. What do you think is the most important issue today related to osteoarthritis? As we currently do not have a cure for osteoarthritis, one of the most important issues is to reduce the burden of this disease through prevention or by delaying its onset. Osteoarthritis places a huge load on the healthcare system. More than 137,000 joint replacement surgeries are performed annually in Canada with an estimated $1.4 billion for inpatient hospital and physician costs (excluding rehabilitation). In Canada, about 500,000 youth hurt their knees every year while playing sports. Half of them go on to develop knee osteoarthritis. These people develop osteoarthritis at a relatively young age, and are six times more likely to have a knee joint replacement. Early onset osteoarthritis can result in a lifetime of pain and disability, mental health problems, and can prevent people from living their lives to the fullest. Finding ways to prevent osteoarthritis, especially after sport-related injuries, is the best way to reduce the burden of osteoarthritis on our healthcare and Canadians.
4. How does your work connect to issues in osteoarthritis? Arthritis Research Canada is the largest clinical arthritis research centre in North America. Our scientific team is currently engaged in over 100 studies related to all types of arthritis, including osteoarthritis. Some of our latest osteoarthritis research highlights include an online physiotherapist guided program to support people who are struggling to recover from a sport-related knee injury. We’re also developing new tools, such as online treatment programs and wearable technology to create new therapy opportunities. Our scientists are creating a super app to self-diagnose and manage knee osteoarthritis. They are analyzing osteoarthritis patient preferences in health interventions to improve care. One of our research teams is studying a condition called femoroacetabular impingement (FAI) to determine whether it may cause hip osteoarthritis, and to determine whether people with FAI are at a greater risk of developing OA, especially when combined with different types of physical activity. These are only a few highlights. More osteoarthritis research can be found here.
5. What is one interesting fact you’d like people to know about your organization? At Arthritis Research Canada, we work with arthritis patients to find solutions to problems they face every day. Their needs are at the center of everything we do. We may not be able to cure this disease but we can reduce pain, prevent joint deformities and disability that comes with them. We can give people the tools and treatments to live full lives despite arthritis. Our mantra is practical research for everyday living. Helping patients today, not decades from now.